Thankfully, the boat was solid, the seas were mostly kind, and so I didn’t kill myself through inexperience.
As the years passed, I continued to log miles under my boat’s keel. With each ocean mile, my hand on the tiller grew steadier, my knowledge of wind and weather more intimate, my ability to handle my boat and trim its sails grew and gradually, sailing began to flow like the undulations of a beautiful ocean wave.
These days, I think of my journeys at sea often. I suppose I see it as an analogy to what we are experiencing in Southeast Michigan right now. In my head, the lessons are loud: in order to do well, in bad weather and in dangerous conditions, you need a solid, stable, well-built boat, a captain with a steady hand under tough conditions, and a willing and able crew ready to give one hand for the boat whilst hanging on with the other.
Under such conditions, the boat and its crew weather almost anything.
So what is my point here, on my grocery blog? Who am I, but a local grocer, a man at the helm of one company in a nation of thousands of companies? I am a father among millions of fathers. I am a man among countless men. I am neither exceptional nor unique. Lest I sound preachy with my metaphors and my musings, let me say that in the midst of a busy day and a tough economy I cannot help but think of the sea, to learn from my experiences in its strong embrace.
Riding breaking, white-capped waves, steering over and around the ones that can destroy the boat and then back on course again once danger has passed. It’s a ready metaphor. Metaphors float all around me, all day long, and if I’ve built any momentum on this blog at all it’s that I want to connect with you my readers, because we are one and the same. My metaphors can become yours or maybe you’ll share yours with me.
So the metaphor of a boat captain? Sure, I am captaining the Hiller’s boat and I am hoping that in some way I can turn Hiller’s into some kind of a local lifeboat for us all. But I know I cannot really save anybody except maybe the people who work for me, maybe my family, maybe myself. Or maybe I have no power at all and just believe in the stories of the skies and the ocean that I have learned to read quite well. And maybe I know – and impart to everyone who wants to listen – that the lessons of the past are the building blocks of the future.
I’ve seen some very stormy times at sea, days when the mackerel skies and mares’-tail clouds foretold something frightening that was on its way and unavoidable. I’ve been lucky more than once.
And yet sometimes I prefer the storm to the calm. Charcoal-painted skies, a ripping breeze, twilight-blue as far as the eye can see. In the toughest times it is the sea that calls me, that takes me away from my desk of piled papers and my hometown’s economic woes. And just when I sink into a dreamy memory of a smooth sail, I remember that even the smoothest sails can turn deadly on a moment and either you’re prepared to survive or you’re not.
When my eldest son Justin turned 21, he and I took off on a little sailboat named Cyrano that I specially built for the occasion. We spent a month riding the seas between Florida, the Bahamas and the Keys.
On a day dark as night, we encountered some very rough weather–but by the time it happened, we had been together for a long time, we trusted the boat, we trusted each other and everything worked out fine. The storm passed while we rode with the waves side by side rather than fight them or each other.
Hiller’s is not just a grocery store; we are a metaphorical lifeboat riding out the storm of this time until we can once again see gentler seas for miles around.
Anything can happen when you’re caught in stormy seas. But if you begin with a sturdy boat, a crew of people determined to survive and maybe a few dozen bottles of rum, you’re damn well going to get through just about anything.
It’s the boat AND the knowledge, sturdy and well-built, that determine the outcome. A well-found sailboat, skippered by an old sea fox whose mind brims with knowledge from hundreds of days at sea, will weather any storm.
The ocean hasn’t changed. In the worst conditions, we let the boat carry us through the crests and the falls. We do it because we are not an enemy of the sea; we are part of it.